Marshal Tito’s Train – Time Capsule of Mid-Century Yugoslav Cool

Tito's Blue Train Yugoslavia

R

iding on Tito’s Blue Train reinforced everything I have heard about life under Marshal Josip Broz Tito in the former Yugoslavia. Over the last few months, as I traveled through Serbia, Croatia, and Macedonia, I’ve asked a lot of people who are old enough to give a considered response, a simple question: “what did you think of Tito?” Without exception, everyone I have spoken to who was alive during the reign of Marshal Josip Broz Tito, loved Marshal Josip Broz Tito.

In Yugoslavia things were much better, they all tell me. Economically – there is no doubt about it. Yugoslavia enjoyed a time of great prosperity right up until the early 1980’s, during the time of Tito’s reign (more on that word choice in a moment). Tellingly, unlike the joyous scenes at the fall of communism in most of Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet sphere of influence, when the Communist, or Socialist era ended in Yugoslavia – the people were deeply saddened.

So, was Yugoslavia a Communist nation? Or was it Socialist? Much like China today, Yugoslavia was indeed very capitalist – market driven socialism if you will. People had no restrictions on leaving the country, unlike those Soviet nation citizens stuck behind an infamously metaphorical iron curtain. Therefore, was Marshal Tito a “benevolent dictator”, or simply just a “President for Life”?

These discussions take me back to my university days. My female friends, with pretty faces and hairy arm pits, were studying the “arts”. Like many privileged western Gen-X’ers, they were ready to radicalize at a moments notice, and spent a lot of time hanging in the quad’ discussing political philosophies and ‘isms. Back then, none of us actually knew what life in Yugoslavia under Tito was really like. None of us knew that one day, I would be riding Marshal Tito’s Blue Train, talking to a man who knew Tito first-hand. For 12 glorious hours, I got to experience life like a boss on Tito’s personal home on wheels. And, I was accompanied by two pretty girls, neither of whom had hairy armpits, or showed much interest in talking about ‘isms.

Tito's Blue Train - the bath scene
Hey you, blondie – jump in Tito’s bath and pretend to use the shower head as a phone. Yes, I love my life.
tito's blue train bath - yugoslavia
OK, blondie, jump in the bath, stare out the window and pretend you’re deep in thought. Still loving life.

Riding in the lap of authentically absolute mid-century luxury, on the impeccably preserved train of Marshal Tito, one thing is for sure – the man had fine taste. A good thing too. Apart from Tito, his wife(s) and his entourage, other guests of the train included foreign dignitaries and royalty – including Queen Elizabeth II, and my personal favourite the Emperor Haile Selassie. Tito used his presidential palace on rails to lead negotiations, lock down deals, and strengthen friendships over a glass of the finest Rakija that Yugoslavia ever produced.

A journey on Tito’s lavishly preserved 1950’s train from Belgrade to Podgorica (capital of Montenegro) must be one of the most iconic and surreal train journeys anywhere on Earth. The train winds it’s way through spectacular mountainous scenery for almost 500 kilometres of track. Enroute are 254 tunnels and 435 bridges – one of which is the highest rail viaduct in Europe. The route begins in Serbia, passes through Bosnia and Herzegovina, and concludes in Montenegro.

Tito’s Blue Train was first running in 1959, and remains almost completely in the same state as it was back then. It really is a time-capsule. It’s not hard to imagine the days where Tito was alive, using the same train to move around the various republics of Yugoslavia. Painted in striking blue, Tito could sleep, have a bath, or sit at his desk and get some work done – all the while waving to the citizens of Yugoslavia who would love to see the man, and his beautiful train, criss-crossing the countryside.

 

Tito's train dining room
We commandeered the smaller of the three dining areas. Apart from a BBC journo that latched onto a couple of cool travel bloggers (only joking – hi Rob!), we had this area all to ourselves for the entire journey.
Tito's train dining area
The largest of Tito’s dining areas. We enjoyed cakes and coffee, whilst listening to stories of Tito’s era from those who knew him. On board was Toma Popovic – the man who would be the first to greet Tito whenever he came aboard. He told me a story or two, but I’m sworn to secrecy.
Tito's bar, on Tito's Blue Train
Tito’s train bar – complete with fine wooden carvings representing each of the Zodiac signs. And some sweet 50’s lighting.
Haile Selassie on Tito's train
Photo of Haile Selassie on Tito’s train. The ‘ighest Emperor of Ethiopia, and to those who are of the Rastafarian religion – God. Amazing.
Tito's train - wife's bedroom
This was the bedroom for Tito’s wife. Phillipa just couldn’t resist.
phone on Tito's Blue Train.
The height of technology, in 1959 Yugoslavia. Tito’s Blue Train.
tito's blue train dining area yugoslavia
Larissa and Charlie, our fantastic waiter for the day (and new buddy). This is the dining area where lunch was served. Hey Chuck!
tito's train Belgrade to Podgorica
The scenery just kept on coming – all the way from Belgrade to Podgorica.
Tito's girls
“I bought a lovely pink handbag with flowers on it!” “oooh I love pretty flowers and handbags too, lets be friends!” “the thing about men is…” blah blah blah etc
tito's blue train interior
Amazing mid-century light fittings at Tito’s bar. The Rakija wasn’t half bad either. Tito’s Blue Train.
interior shot - the ladies of Tito's Blue Train
Believe it or not, they are much more trouble than they first appear. Some chick, and Phillipa, aboard Tito’s Blue Train.

 

In 1980 the blue train was used to take Tito’s coffin all over Yugoslavia, for one last hurrah. And in 1981, the train was finally put to rest. For more than two decades Tito’s Train was safely stored, and thus preserved, in Belgrade. Now, several times a year a small group of passengers get to live in the lap of Yugoslav mid-century madness.

Whichever title you want to use for Marshal Josip Broz Tito – benevolent dictator or president for life – one thing is for certain.

He was loved by his citizens, and owned the coolest train on the planet.

Nate

 

PS, if you’re on Facebook, you already know I’ve been exploring Montenegro. More on that soon, as well as a catch up on some more amazing Bulgarian concrete. Come and join me over here.

* this week I find myself on the Croatian island of Mali Losinj – staying in a mid-century hotel so cool it may have brought a tear even to the eyes of Tito. I’m helping out with an experimental art festival called “Skver“, held in a semi-abandoned historic shipyard.

 

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12 thoughts on “Marshal Tito’s Train – Time Capsule of Mid-Century Yugoslav Cool

  1. Great post again. Tito’s train with two blondes, you are living the dream:-)
    Makes my cross country US ride on Amtrak last year look so…boring.
    I should make some time for these places next time I head to Greece. Hometown Larissa (yes Larissa!) is only a few hours from the border.

    1. Thanks, and hey…. I’m not complaining ;)

      Funny thing is, Larissa mentioned you were from Larissa – yes we were talking about you, were your ears burning?

  2. hey nate,

    that train is a straight up time machine! madness! the photo of Tito and Haile Selassie is pretty cool too. sounds like Tito was also a living god to some of his people at the time. how different things seem in ethiopia and the former yugoslavia since that photo was taken.

    1. Hellz yeah Joelz… nice point about Ethiopia/Yugoslavia – two countries that have changed a great deal in the years since that photo. Was thinking of you and the boys when I saw the picture of Haile Selassie…

  3. How freaking cool. Those wood inlays are AMAZING! I’ve only been on a train once, overnight from Paris to Avignon, but this would be way, way cooler to take a ride on. And the scenery I’m sure is breathtaking. So fun to step back in time when travel was a little more refined.

    1. The inlays were super impressive. There was one in particular – with a sailing ship motif, that I just couldn’t take my eyes off! Such an amazing train, and yes, just a little more refined back then.

      1. I can only imagine how much more beautiful those inlays are in person. I had to share the link to this post on the livemapp app I’m on because there’s a bunch of guys on there that go nuts for trains and they thought this was really, really cool.

  4. What a beautifully preserved train. I love that it seems so well cared for, and yet so usable too. I hate things that just become these terrible museums, just frozen in time. Use the stuff! Looks like great fun!

  5. Hi Nate, What a blast to follow you. Your mum gave me your site details. I can’t believe that the little boy I knew would grow up to lead such a wonderful life – good for you! Keep taking the road less travelled. Much love, Aunty Ronnell xx

    1. Hey Aunty Ronnell! So cool to hear from you… yes, my life isn’t so terrible these days ;) Hopefully we will cross paths sooner or later, perhaps back in Perth (if and when I make it back!) Take care, and all the best to you.

  6. Hi Nate,
    I love your posts about ex-Yugoslavia. You sum it up so well, it is easy to read and it is very entertaining!
    I come from Belgrade, and I am absolutely passionate by my former’s country history.
    It is sometimes difficult to speak about it so I’ll just tell people to check out your posts instead of me talking! I was very touched by your post about the Monuments. You said it all!
    On another note, you should definitely check out Tito’s Galeb currently docked in Rijeka I believe! I am sure you you would like it!
    Cheers and stay metal! :))
    PS. How did you manage to get on the train? Can you share some tips? I would love to do it!!

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